Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's The DREAM New Years Eve Show!!!! (Exclamation Points Theirs)

 An extravaganza of violence from the Land of the Rising Sun is something I look forward to every year. As dead as JMMA is (and let there be no doubt; it's almost as dead as Julius Caesar), they still manage to piece together some pretty fun cards every year. Now, granted, the death of PRIDE in 2007 eliminated any chance of seeing a super-intense Nobuhiko Takada in a diaper, and it also guaranteed that we wouldn't be treated to a live orchestra playing epic battle music. Even with those things gone, it's always a wonderful night of tradition and pageantry.

That's really what it is. Pageantry. I mean, look at some of the matchups they come up with for these NYE shows. This year, Shinya Aoki will take on longtime friend and training partner Satoru Kitaoka, in a fight that will have all the intensity of a Steven Wright routine. Sure, Aoki might be enough of a jerk to actually hyper-extend one of Satoru's limbs until it breaks, but the point is that the fight makes no sense ("Two good grapplers and guys who wear pants! This will be compelling!" was the entire thought process), and let there be no doubt: these are two homies being asked to throw down with their entire country watching.

The same thing happened in 2009 when Hayato Sakurai fought Akihiro Gono; these were two longtime friends, and they fought like it. It was such a half-assed fight. When Gono secured a second round armbar, Sakurai tapped immediately. The whole ending sequence played out like two guys who wanted to go back to drinking beer.

(Tangent: this dynamic is why I understand why certain teammates wont fight each other. It has nothing to do with the principle of two friends or teammates fighting; it has more to do with the likely fact that the fight will suck, and that deep down, both potential combatants know that they wouldn't give 100% against their compadres. This isn't always the case; Tyson Griffin and Evan Dunham put on a pretty good fight at UFC 115. But this has to be taken into consideration.)

Before I get to the other fights, I must mention that I keep hearing a rumor that Tim Sylvia will fight Brett Rogers on this card. So Rogers, who is already 1-4 in his last 5 fights and looked dreadful in all five of them, was released from jail on the 13th, leaving him ... lets see ... a solid 12 days to get ready for a guy who has been winning fights, before he flies to Japan (which he's never done) and somehow adjusts to jet lag and the fact that he's only been a free man for less than 20 days?

Get real. This fight can't happen.


Fedor Emelianenko vs. Satoshi Ishii

If Ishii can close the distance and get a takedown, maybe he can ... oh, screw it. Fedor is going to bulldoze him to the other end of the earth. NEXT!

Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Kazuyuki Miyata

As much as I love Miyata, it's incredibly difficult to envision a scenario where he beats Kawajiri. Miyata is a better pure wrestler, but Kawajiri is far superior in the stand up department, and once the fight hits the floor, he's got the chops to eventually secure a dominant position and beat Miyata up. Kawajiri has one of the most underrated top games in MMA; his guard passes are perfect, and he sticks on guys like velcro when he mounts them. 

Kawajiri should be fighting Hiroyuki Takaya for the title, but that would leave Miyata two fights that make any sense at all: a rematch with Takeshi "Lion" Inoue that absolutely nobody would be interested in seeing, or a fight with Mitsuhiro Ishida, who is coming off of a loss. These are the things that happen when your talent pool is as deep as Kim Kardashian's worldview.

Miyata might do something spectacular, and maybe he'll even pull of one of his vaunted suplex's. My pick here is Kawajiri all the way, though. By early TKO or decision.

Ryo Chonan vs. Hayato Sakurai

This fight is a second go-round of their better-than-average battle at DEEP 12. Chonan can't take damage (not that he ever could, but it's beddy bye on the first punch now) and Sakurai doesn't care (he fought at 170 almost his whole career when he's always been a natural @ 155 ... for those of you who don't believe me, go watch PRIDE Bushido 9). Not to be crass, but they'll probably put on a good fight, one of them will win, and then we'll forget about both of them. Again. Ladies and gentleman, the New Years Eve show!

Sakurai should be too much on the feet for the awkward Chonan, who seems far too willing to mix it up there considering his chin issues. I see a fight on the feet, with Sakurai landing a counter left hook that puts Chonan away.  He'll earn a stoppage victory in the first round.

Antonio Banuelos vs. Masakazu Imanari

Coming off a much needed win over journeyman Hideo Tokoro, Zuffa castoff Antonio Banuelos looks to continue his winning ways against MMA's most compelling and slick grappler.

Before I get to my breakdown, let me mention that I thought long and hard before I referred to Imanari as "MMA's slickest grappler." I'm not saying he's the BEST grappler; he's far too willing to play guard and get smashed on bottom to carry that title. However, some of the maneuvers he's pulled off that eventually led to submissions were absolute works of art. There was the sensational diving kneelock he pulled off on Mike Brown. There was the gutty toe hold he secured on Yoshiro Maeda after escaping from a triangle choke. There was the rear naked choke on Justin Cruz while he had Cruz's shoulder omoplata'd to kingdom come and back. However, my favorite was his finish against Isao Terada; he pulls guard, throws two kicks to Terada's face, goes for an armbar on the wrong arm, then, just as Terada tries to power out, Imanari, for shits and giggles, decides to switch it over to a triangle. But no! He makes another snap decision to go for the armbar again. He locks his other foot onto Terada's head, and gets it in grotesque fashion. And I guess my point is this: Imanari, the entire time, wanted that armbar. But he juked and jived and squirmed around enough that Terada tried to defend a submission that Imanari wasn't even going for. He thought 3 or 4 moves ahead. He was playing chess, and Isao Terada was playing checkers.

(I got so excited describing that that I just armbarred myself. Check out 11:18 of this clip. Your life will be better.)

Banuelos is probably best known for being friends with Chuck Liddell, but he's a serviceable fighter when he can get inside and flurry. He hasn't been subbed since 2002, but I'm not sure he has the tact to beat up Imanari on his feet. He's an okay wrestler, so I could see him landing some ground and pound, but I see him losing a decision here. Ashikan Judan will give Antonio Banuelos a grappling seminar.

Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Takeshi "Lion" Inoue (FW title match)

I'll say this again; this should be Tatsuya Kawajiri. But since it's not, we'll be treated to Lion Takeshi's pants (maybe?), his "wild hairstyle du jour" (probably), his marching band-style feints (definitely) and a fight where Takaya soundly outboxes him (likely).

This is far from a certainty, though. Takaya is a good boxer, but he's prone to eating counters and leg kicks. All jokes aside, Takeshi is a pretty wily striker that can absolutely put a hurting on you if he gets into his tempo. I just think Takaya will put too much pressure on Takeshi because he'll be too busy dancing around. Takaya by unanimous decision.

I hope that no matter how tumultuous the Japanese MMA landscape becomes in the next 365 days, they (I am of course referring to DREAM here, as Sengoku no longer exists) can still cobble together enough guys and funds to keep doing shows on New Years Eve. That's all I'm asking from you, Japan. Come through for me.

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